In books on September 5, 2013 at 9:37 pm
Lately I have been thinking about Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams – while looking for other novels about he American West I came across The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. Set in the mid 1800s The Sisters Brothers takes some recognizable classic elements of a ‘Western’ (hired killers, gunfights, gold, travels across the west) and adds in humor, odd incidents and disturbing violence. Stylized, strange and different this was interesting to read – but ultimately I found myself a bit disinterested in the unsympathetic ultra-violent brothers, their fate and their adventure.
Rating: 3 of 5
First Read Date: May 2013
Amazon – The Sisters Brothers
In books on May 5, 2013 at 6:31 pm
Well I suppose that the author‘s site has a better summary than I could ever hope to offer:
“After a lifetime of self-medicating fails and life finally begins its tilt toward self-destruction, Jodi – a 25-year-old writer nursing the psychological lacerations of being a “rape-child” – meets, through dreams, a special five-year-old boy who shows him how the pair may move across parallel universes to fulfill their universal purpose. As they travel, they encounter creatures on different planes of consciousness that are responsible for specific social and moral ailments impacting and pressing mankind’s evolution to ill-fated ends. In short time the boy makes an astounding revelation: that there exists, on separate universal planes, two omnipotent and infinite Gods – one created by the sheer force of mankind’s collective beliefs; the other, the Source of all things. The man-made anomaly, the child asserts, must be destroyed. But, who or what is the child?
Anathema Rhodes: Dreams chronicles three days in the life of Jodi Rhodes, and the final days of humanity – as we know it.”
Wow. I have no doubt that some of this book went over my head, I am not sure exactly who I know I would recommend this to and I don’t know if the big ideas “two omnipotent and infinite Gods” (which reminds me a bit of Dan Simmon’s Hyperion series) totally thrilled me… But I certainly did enjoy the mystery/strangeness/discovery, the stunning visual imagery and the strange journey of the characters – certainly an interesting book!
Rating: 3 of 5
First Read Date: November 2012
Amazon – Anathema Rhodes: Dreams
In books on April 2, 2013 at 10:37 pm
From Denis Johnson‘s Train Dreams (p. 112):
He was standing on a cliff. He’d found a back way into a kind of arena enclosing a body of water called Spruce Lake, and now he looked down on it hundreds of feet below him, its flat surface as still and black as obsidian, engulfed in the shadow of surrounding cliffs, ringed with a double ring of evergreens and reflected evergreens. Beyond, he saw the Canadian Rockies still sunlit, snow-peaked, a hundred miles away, as if the earth were in the midst of its creation, the mountains taking their substance out of the clouds. He’d never seen so grand a prospect. The forests that filled his life were so thickly populous and so tall that generally they blocked him from seeing how far away the world was, but right now it seemed clear there were mountains enough for everybody to get his own.
At times simple and spare, and at times magical, this novella covers the 80+ year long life of Robert Grainier in the American Northwest – no clear heroes, tangled plot driving towards an amazing climax or fame/fortune – just life in the American West. This is haunting in some way that I continue to fail to quite be able to grasp…
Rating: 5 of 5
First Read Date: January 2013
Amazon – Train Dreams
In books on February 15, 2013 at 9:16 am
Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray, page 556: “The truth is messy and chaotic and all over the place. Often it just doesn’t make sense. Stories make things make sense, but the way they do that is to leave out anything that doesn’t fit. And often that is quite a lot.”
The author from an interview in the The Paris Review – “I had one basic concept that tied all of the disparate themes together: Each of these people was looking for a big narrative arc, big feelings, and getting themselves into really big trouble as a result.”
Boys’ school, science/psuedo science, drugs, love, sex, crime, video games, teen angst, bullies, violence, passion, failure, affairs, scandal, death, history, money, shame, deceit and doughnuts – just a short off-the-top-of-my-head list of things that I remember from this novel. There is both tragedy and comedy – but what really pulled me in on my first reading were all of the hidden stories, forgotten/concealed – tragic/mundane, interacting/overlapping - surfacing/hidden, with no complete intersection or moment when all is revealed. I suppose that I found more tragedy than comedy – but also somehow a hint of strange hopeful magic.
Rating: 5 of 5
First Read Date: December 2012
Amazon – Skippy Dies
In books on September 15, 2012 at 7:58 am
For some unknown-to-me reason I recently stumbled on the Wikipedia page for David Michell‘s Number9Dream – and laughed! I laughed because the Wikipedia entry is maybe the exact opposite experience of reading the book. The Wikipedia entry lays out each chapter with a simple-clear-precise-proper summary, on the other hand each chapter in the book is an kind of hallucinatory blend of reality/dream-imagination that left me entertained, but certainly/completely without any ability produce a coherent summary paragraph. Number9Dream is not my favorite David Mitchell novel – but it is strangely fun and certainly unique – certainly don’t spoil it by reading the Wikipedia entry first!
Rating: 4 of 5
First Read Date: 2010 or so…
Amazon – Number9Dream
I have found several David Mitchell interviews online (all interesting and worth searching if you are interested) – a bit arbitrary but one I enjoyed as a place to start: The Paris Review – David Mitchell, The Art of Fiction No. 204 by Adam Begley.
In books on September 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm
For the last few years I have found myself periodically seeking out the Amazon recommendations and internet lists of post-apocalyptic fiction – there is plenty in the genre that I am happy to skip over, but I continue to comb thru the lists because I have come to value, and maybe even crave, striped down post-apocalyptic worlds where the authors have discarded everything unnecessary and are left with only what they need for the story. The first half of Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars is a perfect example – a handful of people, a dog, a few landscapes, and a plane are about it for the first half… Heller takes these elements and produces an almost meditative exploration of the absolutely beautiful/gut wrenching/terrible/hopeful/lonely survival of the main character – simply amazing. The second half is good – not brilliant like the first half – but I certainly enjoyed reading to end.
Rating: 4 of 5
First Read Date: August 2012
Amazon – The Dog Stars
In books on June 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm
Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami are favorites of mine. To combine them into one blog post seems slightly odd – they are not part of a series and are complex enough that reducing them down to a few sentences seems like a disservice. But what these have in common – for me – is that they were the first two books I read by Murakami and that they give me the feeling that Murakami did not let reality interfere with his story. Unexplained magical/mystical events/people/situations occur over and over again in these novels, always purposeful and interesting – but rarely (maybe never…) offered up with the kind of attention/logic/explanation that a science fiction book would put forth when something extraordinary happens. In fact these events almost seem ‘normal’ in the flow of the book, just another part of the story, of course one of the characters is talking to a cat – why wouldn’t we he be? It would almost be odd if he could not talk to the cats… I certainly love when a book offers up something original – these books certainly do that!
Rating: 5 of 5
First Read Date: 2008
Amazon – Kafka on the Shore
Amazon – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
In books on April 15, 2012 at 8:43 am
I am a fan of Haruki Murakami, so I was excited when the English version of 1Q84 became available. I picked up and put down this book several times while reading it and I have to admit that I just really don’t know what to say about it – Long/Interesting/What?/I am glad I read it/Why?/1984/hmmm… This is certainly a must read if you are a Murakami fan – but, at least for me, not my first recommendation.
Rating: ? of 5 (although certainly a must read for Murakami fans)
First Read Date: April 2012
Amazon – 1Q84
In books on December 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm
Norwegian Wood was not quite what I was expecting – the Murakami novels that I have read – A Wild Sheep Chase, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Dance Dance Dance, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Sputnik Sweetheart, Kafka on the Shore and After Dark – all seem to me to have some place in the genre of magical realism with a strange, seemingly absurd and often nearly incomprehensible blending of reality and fantasy. While some small parts of Norwegian Wood may have a very slight hint of the magical and absurd, it really does not belong to the same genre.
Norwegian Wood is a story of struggle and love during the late 1960s in Japan. The narrator is Toru Watanabe – a college student in Tokyo. The story follows his life for several years into his early twenties – and thru Toru we learn about a number of his friends and lovers. I have read that this novel was very popular in Japan – but I had trouble connecting with it, perhaps – in part – because I don’t understand the setting? The last bit of the novel did give me an incredible feeling of nostalgia as Toru has his life transformed by love and death – but most of the novel was flat and my reading stretched out over several months… Perhaps a novel left to deeper and more knowledgeable Murakami fans.
Rating: 2 of 5
First Read Date: October 2011
Amazon – Norwegian Wood
In books on November 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm
Dan Chaon gives us a clever plot – with several converging stories – and disturbed characters that work together to create an enjoyable and slightly uncomfortable novel. There were sections that certainly made me think about my own life and identity, but overall I was not quite completely hooked/pulled in.
Rating: 3 of 5
First Read Date: July 2010
Amazon – Await Your Reply